I adore my Nintendo 3DS. As far as handheld gaming goes it is nigh on perfect. Except, I haven't had the 3D feature turned on in over a year. Playing games like Super Smash Brothers or Monster Hunter where keeping the console absolutely still to keep within that 3D sweet spot is nigh on impossible.
So I turned the feature off and never looked back. This is about to change.
I've been road-testing the 'NEW' Nintendo 3DS XL. It is a bit chunkier than its older sibling and upon first glance nothing else much seems to have changed... Except there are now two shoulder buttons on either side and a strange little grey nubbin above and to the left of the right-hand-side face buttons.
This nubbin changes everything! At least for 3DS users, anyway. At first you may think it is a tiny (probably useless) analogue stick like we have had on every single gamepad since the early 'noughties'. This isn't the case - it is touch sensitive and surprisingly reactive. Its primary function is for camera control and it works really well, even if it does take a little getting used to.
Right, back to the whole 3D thing that is central to Nintendo's little clamshell device of joy. Before, you had to maintain a certain distance from the screen as well as staying dead centre, give or take one or two degrees of movement. This rigid limitation meant that any game that got frantic would have you popping in and out of the sweet spot constantly and down this path migraines and melted eyes lie.
Nintendo has added face tracking that shifts the angle you view 3D images at, meaning that you can now view a sharp, clear 3D image within a 60 degree arc horizontally and a bit less vertically. These aren't the official numbers, but come from my own experience (which may be slightly different depending on your own eyesight, playing position). The point is that it works and works really well. I can actually see myself not turning off 3D by force of habit now.
Almost all of the hardware changes are brilliant, but there is one massive elephant in the room I need to address. It's the internalised memory card slot, which you have to unscrew the bottom of the console to access. It wouldn't be so bad if the screws weren't of a low quality and incredibly small. One came out fine, but the second would not budge and started showing signs of damage before I gave up on removing it. You will need the kind of Philips screw driver found in eye glasses repair kits. The upside of being able to remove the panel is access to the battery, which in the future should be upgradeable to last longer.
There is one more issue that seems to have caused a stir on the other side of The Pond. There is no AC adapter in the box, which was also the case in the UK with the initial launch of the 3DS XL, so it comes as no surprise to current owners that new owners will need to purchase a separate charging cable for their new console. Those of us who are upgrading just need to keep the plug we already have.
As it stands it is a bit hard to judge the increase in processing power. There aren't any games that show marked improvements, although it does go from a fully powered down state to operational faster. The problem going forward is that new games won't work with older consoles correctly unless you have a circle-pad pro, and even then there will be a drop off in performance as developers harness the increased specs.
A brief note on the system software - you can now use themes... Which cost money, and that is pretty much it. In all fairness the system software does exactly what it needs to without being overdone.
Now we come to the big question - Is the 'NEW' Nintendo 3DS XL (and by extension the smaller version) worth it? Short answer is 'Yes', that goes for newcomers and current owners alike. Despite that one questionable design choice with the screws the upgrade is tangible and the improved 3D utility alone makes it a worthy upgrade.
There is also the issue of future games to consider, many of which will make use of the C-stick (I think that is the official term, but I'll stick to 'nubbin') for greater camera control in games such as Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate
and Xenoblade Chronicles
which will both struggle immensely on the older hardware.
I'll be trading in my beloved red 3DS XL when I go to pick up one of the shiny looking special edition new consoles.
+ Enhanced 3D combined with face tracking works really well.
+ Added buttons will increase the viability of third person gaming
+ A solid piece of hardware, well made for the most part and sturdy
- Tiny irritating screws to access memory card slot
- Swap from normal SD to Micro SD cards may prove awkward for transferring data when upgrading.